Topeak SmartGauge D2

Unlike my on-going saga with destroyed floor pumps, I’ve actually had much better luck with hand held bicycle pressure gauges.  But nonetheless, I’ve had three gripes: (1) how the hell do you know if it’s still accurate after years of service, (2) unlike pumps, bike pressure gauges are generally presta- or Schrader-only, and (3) the “reading lock” feature often times fails after a few months or years, making it impossible to easily get a pressure reading after removing the gauge from the tire.  The first issue had been in the back of my mind for the past decade as I continued to use a seemingly indestructible plastic Zefal gauge from the 90’s – the problem was, it never seemed to match any of the gauges on my floor pumps, which themselves seemed more like random number generators than actual pressure indicators.

Not too long ago, digital pressure gauges were notoriously inaccurate and poorly calibrated from the factory.  While I still wouldn’t trust most of the dollar-store digital gauges you see everywhere, digital pressure transducer technology has improved a lot, so now $15 or so will get you a quality digital gauge that will not only read accurately new out-of-the-box, but also five or so years down the road.

But it was the 2nd issue above that led me in search of a gauge capable of using on both presta and Schrader valves.  Somehow I ended up settling on the Topeak SmartGauge D2 after a fairly limited search.  


After several months of use on both types of valves, as well as benchmarking the reading against other gauges, I’ve decided the Topeak is a winner.  Cool features:

  • Rotating head lets you fit the gauge into tight or awkward situations
  • Pressure release but to let’s you bleed out pressure to hit a precise target
  • Switches between presta and Schrader by moving a little lever
  • Digital pressure reading is maintained on the display after you remove it from the valve
  • Big LCD display is easy to read
  • Press a button to switch units
  • Battery-saving auto-off
  • 250 psi max pressure for applications like shocks

Lezyne Classic Floor Drive Pump

I can name off a long list of floor pumps that I’ve had love-hate relationships with – Scott, SKS, Silca, Topeak, yadda, yadda.  When they are brand new, everything is wonderful, but within a matter of weeks or months things start heading south until you spend as much time trying to get the pump to work as you do actually pumping air into your tires.

I’ve bought replacement heads, rebuild kits, new hoses and even made my own gaskets trying to keep my floor pumps alive, but to no avail.  The three figure Silca was probably the most disappointing, as it never seemed to work great and probably cost more than the other combined.

I’ll admit that it’s still early in the game, as I’ve only been using this Lezyne Classic Floor Drive pump for a few months, but I’m smitten.  But the big difference with this pump is that there are many small indications that this one is finally going to last: extremely high quality constructin and materials, awesome gauge, super smooth head engagement, fast disengagement and accurate pressure measurement.  

The Lezyne Classic Floor Drive pump in black


The head operating is not intuitive, so you’ll have to read the instructions the first time.  No funky levers or switches that push down against a rubber gasket when switch from Schrader to Presta, just a different sequence with the awesome CNC collar.  It’s no surprise that the ABS2 pump head is available separately as a way to bring other brands or pumps back to life.

Lezyne’s ABS2 head is available separately


I’ve used the Lezyne for the presta tubes on our bikes and for the Schrader tubes on our Burley and my daughters Linus bike, and I can honestly say that the pump works equally well for either, which is a big deal for some folks.  At the same time, the dual-functioning head is – maybe for the first time in floor pump history – not a detriment to using it for just one valve type.  A roadie could use this for his or her presta valves for years without even knowing that it works on Schrader valves as well, and the same goes for someone who has never even seen a presta valve.  Heck, I even used it with a needle adapter to pump up a soccer ball.

Finally, I love love love the huge 3 1/2 inch gauge on this pump – so squinting or bending over to distinguish between psi and bar!

Wenger Standard Issue (Soldier) Swiss Army Knife

Wenger Standard Issue (Soldier) Swiss Army Knife

The Swiss companies Wenger and Victorinox have both been around for over 100 years, and both have been “official” knife suppliers to the Swiss Army.

Unlike the red polymer scales (handles) and myriad polished blades and tools, which are what come to mind when one thinks of a “Swiss army knife”, the actual folding knife issued to Swiss soldiers was quite different.  The Soldier, or Soldat (Soldier in French) model, aka Model 1961 (Wenger also called their civilian version the “Standard Issue” or “SI”), was made by both companies from 1962-2008.  The production year was marked on the back side of the main blade tange (base of the blade). 

Above: a Wenger Standard Issue (civilian version with bail)

Wenger later made a commemorative version from 2011-2013.  In 2009, Victorinox introduced a modernized, new Soldier version that is 111 mm in length.

Frequently referred to as “Alox” or “Aloxy”, in reference to the alloy “scale” (handle) material, these silver-handled knives were longer (93 mm) than the common red plastic scale knives (85 mm) that typify the “Swiss army knife.”  They also are limited to just four implements, or tools.

See SwissKnives.info for lots of details on the Soldat and other Swiss Army knives.

See also SAKwiki for detailed specs on nearly all Wenger and Victorinox knives, variants, pics, catalogs, etc.  It’s a remarkable resource.

Wenger was acquired by Victorinox in 2005 and in 2013 the Wenger knife brand (and rounded-square shield emblem) were dropped, making Wenger knives suddenly more collectible than their nearly-identical Victorinox counterparts.  I had a Wenger pocket knife in the 70’s, so I’ve always been inclined to Wengers over the (now) more popular Victorinox.  Note that the “round bottom, square top” shields used on the Soldats is the Swiss crest, and thus the same on both the Wenger and Victorinox versions.  For the most part, you can’t distinguish between a Wenger or Victorinox Soldier without opening it up, except for some of the variants described below.

  
Above: Victorinox (top) and Wenger (bottom) examples of the Soldier; only the civilian version of the Wenger ever included the bail (although it didn’t always include one).  Note that both manufacturers use a Swiss shield, not the Wenger or Victorinox company emblem shields.

One of the distinguishing differences between and many Soldat versions are the rivets – coming in either solid or hollow form.  Hollow rivets were often used on the end opposite the shield so that a bail (metal hook, as my Wenger has) or fabric lanyard could be attached.  The military versions never came with bails, and eventually stopped coming with hollow rivets.  

 

Above: a 1979 Victorinox Soldat with a hallow rivet and inspection stamp; often you see these with no stamp, but still with the square box where the stamp belongs.  Note that there is no bail.

  
Above: Wenger solid rivet version (top) and hollow rivet with bail (bottom) variants; the bail is easily removed if desired (or if trying to make a civilian version look like the military version!).

Though silver is the most common scale finish color (yes, the first ones were red), non-Soldier models were produced in many colors – particularly the Victorinox versions (such as the Cadet, Farmer and Pioneer models). The orange ones are particularly attractive.  Earlier models of the Soldat used all-silver shields.

  
Above: Victorinox Cadet alox models

eBay is about the only place to find the now-discontinued Wenger Soldier/Standard Issue knives; expect to pay at least $50-65 for a “new” old stock.  If you can’t find one, then the currently produced Victorinox Pioneer version is less expensive, easy to find and just as nice.  Still, there’s something cool about the bails on those old Wengers!

  

London Undercover City Gent Umbrellas

London Undercover City Gent Umbrellas

Just in time for Father’s Day comes the nicest umbrella your dad (or you) will ever need.  London Undercover is a London-based company started in 2008 to provide well-designed “British fashion accessories” like the City Gent umbrella range.  While US$150 sounds like a lot for an umbrella, there are plenty of $350 umbrellas on the market that seem comparable in quality (to my admittedly untrained eye).

  
above: London Undercover’s City Gent Lifesaver umbrella in brown/olive (image: londonundercover.co.uk)

When I was an undergrad in college, the first rainy spring semester changed my attitude toward using (and carrying) an umbrella – a full-sized, stick (non-collapsible) umbrella at that!  A navy, wood-handled umbrella at the university bookstore caught my eye.  There was only one left and the wood had a small split in it, which somehow seemed to add to its character.  I used that umbrella for four or five years until it was misplaced, and I simultaneously joined the Gore-Tex shell trend of the 90’s!  Stick umbrellas are vastly superior in function and durability than collapsible versions, as long as the length doesn’t cause you too many issues.  Like many people, I still keep collapsible umbrellas stowed away for “emergency” use.

I still like to wear a waterproof shell a lot of the time, but a jacket doesn’t keep your bags, pants or shoes dry – and a wet jacket gets your car seats wet, too.  I think everyone should have a decent stick umbrella in addition to a quality waterproof shell jacket (and a pair of L.L. Bean Maine Hunting Boots).

So back to the umbrella – for Father’s Day I asked, and received, a London Undercover City Gent Lifesaver umbrella, which is a part of their City Gent range.  The Lifesaver Range is named for the British Lifeboat rescue services, with the colors representing those of the service – orange, dark navy and brown (aka olive).  The City Gent umbrellas use malacca wood handles and beech wood shafts, metal tip cups and spokes, as well as bronze ferrules.  The Lifesaver variants feature a slightly darker “gunmetal” finish on the metal parts and a very functional bright orange elastic button fastener.

   

When I picked up this umbrella, the first thing that struck me was that it was neither heavy nor unbalanced.  All that wood just “looks” heavy and my old umbrella was handle-heavy.

 

London Undercover umbrellas are not easy to find in the U.S.  You can order directly from London Undercover’s online shop, or from one of several UK sites.  Mine was bought from Stuarts London; see also Mr Porter.

Raleigh Record Ace

Raleigh Record Ace

Raleigh is one of the few bike manufacturers that never gave up on steel, and the latest Record Ace model goes a step further by offering Campagnolo components, in a polished silver finish, no less! Built around proven Reynolds 631 alloy, the Record Ace comes in a respectable range of five sizes. While I’s be more enthusiastic about a polished Athena grouppo, the Veloce parts spec probably makes more sense for a 631 frameset. The fork is lugged steel with a flat crown, which matches every other part of this bike nicely; a carbon fork just wouldn’t look right on this bike. The downsides? Well, the parts spec isn’t fantastic – while the FSA headset is nice, the Joytech hubs are nothing to write home about, and it would be really nice to see Campy hubs. Also, I’m not a big fan of the sloping top tube, but it’s a pretty mild slope and only detracts slightly from the classic lines of the rest of the bike. The Record Ace comes in any color you want, as long as it’s black. Cheers!
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above: the Raleigh Record Ace (raleighusa.com)

All City Cycles 2015

All City Cycles 2015

While checking out the steel wares being displayed at NAHBS 2015, a friend of mine mentioned seeing some nice new stuff coming from All City Cycles, a company that I’ve been watching for some time. Apparently, though, I haven’t been watching them closely enough.

All City seems to be one of the very few companies that fill the niche-gap between inexpensive Tange steel frames and expensive custom 853-type frames. At the bottom, you have companies like Surly with cheap (about $500), mass-produced, no frills steel frames. I’ve never been a fan of Surly because their frames are no better than any entry-level steel production bike from any big-name manufacturer, yet by the time you build a full bike, you’ll be paying way more than an off-the-shelf Trek, Marin, etc. Next, you have companies like Soma Fabrications, that offer much better products at moderate prices (roughly $500-$1000), which actually are nice enough to justify an inexpensive bike build. After that, nowadays you pretty much jump up to about $2000 for a semi- or full-custom Columbus or Reynolds tubed frameset. Every once in a blue moon, a big company like Raleigh might offer a quality steel frameset for around $1500, but generally this is an under-served market.

That’s why All City’s bikes and frames are pretty exciting. The Mr. Pink road frame uses Columbus Zona tubes, custom stainless odropouts, internal top cable routing, a tapered steel fork, and has an MSRP of about $1100. Plus, All City designed enough clearance for bigger tires and/or fenders. Nice. (And if you don’t get the Mr. Pink reference, then you can’t own this bike.)

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above: All City Mr. Pink frameset (allcitycycles.com)

My personal favorite, though, is All City’s Macho King frameset, a cross rig fabricated from Reynolds 853 tubes and a Whiskey 7 carbon fork. It boasts similar frame specs as the Mr. Pink, but is disc ready.

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above: All City Macho King frameset (allcitycycles.com)

All City also makes a single-sped version, the Nature Boy 853 – apparently available as a frameset (also $1200) but mostly seen as a complete bike.

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above: All City Nature Boy 853 (allcitycycles.com)